A blog for in2gr8mentalhealth by Jo Wren, Occupational Therapist in mental health services and member of in2gr8mentalhealth. Hi in2gr8mentalmealth members and subscribers and I hope you had a good bank holiday weekend.
On 22nd May 2019 I attended the Improving Doctors Mental Health and Supporting Doctors with Mental Health Problems: Bringing the Joy Back into Work conference and I just wanted to share an insight with you.
It was really good to hear professionals talking openly about their lived experience of mental illness. It was commented that even five years ago, there would not have been a conference like this available.
Caroline Walker aka The Joyful Doctor @drcwalker100 gave a moving account of living and working with a dual diagnosis and shared some insights into ways of working that supported her with this, including:
• Permission to talk about her mental health instead of hiding it. She prompted us to answer honestly when asked “How are you?” to normalise talking about mental illness in the workplace.
• Basic human compassion from the people we work with. Caroline talked about receiving a supportive letter from a colleague when she reached out and how important that was to maintain her safety at a difficult time.
• A culture of accepting how hard things are in the NHS rather than denying it.
• A culture of permission to work within our own limits.
• To challenge the culture of doctors as completely autonomous and acceptance that it’s a basic need to connect with our peers. Peer support networks in whatever form we can find them were strongly encouraged.
• Having positive role models around us who are honest about their own mental health.
However, Caroline also talked about the positive aspect of being a health professional with a mental illness. She described the value of being able to be a positive role model for others by being honest about mental illness and encouraged us to do the same. She gave the example of having the confidence to call in sick when you are unwell with a mental illness. When asked directly about the value of her lived experience and how it enriched her practice, she talked about how powerful her own experience was for connecting with other doctors who are experiencing mental illness, giving a shared understanding that leads to basic human compassion at a difficult time in someone’s life.
Although this was a conference aimed at doctors, I feel the take home messages from Caroline should apply in any work place. The more we normalise mental illness, the more we can talk about it and move into a more positive culture of valuing our lived experience for the knowledge, skills, insights and authentic empathy and compassion that it brings to our professional role working with clients with mental illness and with our colleagues, 1 in 4 of who will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime.
If you would like to write a blog on any of the themes of being a mental health professional ,land having your own lived experience of mental health problems, or your thoughts from a relevant event out there, contact Founder Dr Natalie Kemp at firstname.lastname@example.org.